Chelsea are the last remaining English team in three competitions and Thomas Tuchel will need to manage his resources intelligently to achieve their aims. Although they aren’t competing for a league title, they still need to make sure they finish in the top four. That won’t excite the German coach though and he will want to win at least one of the cup competitions that they remain in.
One player that will be key to achieving success is N’Golo Kante. It is no coincidence that Chelsea won two massive games against Manchester City and West Ham United with the Frenchman in the starting eleven. Meanwhile, last night, he was the standout performer against Real Madrid. Tuchel will manage his minutes carefully, as they can’t afford to lose him to injury again, but he must be a guarantee to start in big matches.
At the weekend, he was excellent against West Ham United, as he dominated the midfield areas. He played a big role in keeping the in-form Jesse Lingard at bay. It was reminder of the qualities that he showed in the early part of his Premier League career with Leicester City and Chelsea. The French international made four tackles and three interceptions. No other player made more.
Kante is a valuable player to have in transition, as he can win the ball back and spring forward. He is comfortable carrying the ball, as shown by his dribbling ability. The midfielder averages one successful dribble per game in the Premier League and 1.4 successful dribbles in the Champions League.
Against Real Madrid, he completed six of his eight attempted dribbles. Kante was key in getting them forward quickly and he launched several promising attacks. The Frenchman had 80 touches of the ball and completed 88% of his passes. Only Jorginho had more touches of the ball for Chelsea.
His positioning has always been excellent, as proven by his average of 12.32 ball recoveries per ninety minutes. There are few players as good as Kante at what he does. That has never been in doubt, but he has been used differently by the previous two head coaches at Stamford Bridge.
Although that has led to criticism over the Frenchman’s role, it has allowed him to develop other parts of his game. He is more of a threat in forward areas, but Tuchel has been using him in a deeper role with a focus on mopping up loose balls. This is definitely the way to use Kante for the rest of the season.
The current formation sees Chelsea play with three forward players and overlapping full-backs. The 30-year-old is there to get the ball back to service these exciting players. In the match against Real Madrid, it was clear how effective he can be at bringing the ball into the attacking half and launching attacks.
In big matches, such as the ones upcoming, his ability to regain possession will be very important. He is also a proven winner and Chelsea look a better team with Kante in the starting eleven. At the age of 30, he has already won two Premier League titles and the World Cup.
It will be the Champions League that motivates him most, as it is missing from his medal collection. Tuesday showed that he is determined to win the competition this season.